PITTSBURGH – Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong's lawyer has floated an alibi for her in the bizarre death of one man: the bizarre death of another man.
James Roden's body was in a freezer in August 2003, when Brian Wells robbed a bank with a bomb locked to his neck. Before the explosive killed Wells, the pizza delivery man told police he had been forced to commit the crime.
Authorities announced Wednesday that Diehl-Armstrong and friend Kenneth E. Barnes have been charged with the deadly robbery, after a nearly four-year investigation into the puzzling, convoluted plot. Federal prosecutors believe Wells was involved in planning the crime but may have become an unwilling participant by the time a metal collar carrying the bomb was fastened to his neck.
Diehl-Armstrong is in prison for murdering Roden, a former boyfriend. Her attorney Lawrence D'Ambrosio told The Associated Press he believes she was too obsessed with that killing to have been involved in the robbery plot. She has a tendency to focus — and even obsess — on major events in her life, he said.
Diehl-Armstrong, 58, was the valedictorian of her high school class, but her trial in Roden's death showed that her life since was full of severe mental problems, including bipolar disorder and schizophrenia — and a deep hatred of men. Two decades earlier, she was acquitted in the killing of another boyfriend that she said was in self-defense.
Diehl-Armstrong had been repeatedly questioned about Wells' death. All the while, she asserted her innocence in letters to news outlets.
"I'm sane, not on psych(iatric) meds" and have "equivalent of five college degrees with honors," she wrote to ABC News.
Her father, Harold Diehl, sees things differently. Federal prosecutors allege that Diehl-Armstrong hatched the robbery plot to get money to kill the 88-year-old.
"She, in my estimation, she'd have a tendency to do anything that's possible because I think her mind is a little bit goofed up," said Diehl, who added that it was no surprise she wanted him dead. "I don't think she's completely sane."
Diehl said his daughter was an only child who was born and grew up in the house in which he still lives. The home is on a quiet street of well-kept houses, its porch decorated with flowerpots and American flags set there by neighbors.
Diehl is a retired salesman who had traveled throughout Pennsylvania, Ohio and New York selling aluminum siding, awnings and windows. His wife, Agnes, a grade-school teacher, died about 10 years ago after more than 50 years of marriage.
In 2005, Diehl-Armstrong pleaded guilty but mentally ill to murdering Roden on or around Aug. 13, 2003, about two weeks before Wells' death. His body was found in a freezer at the home of another former boyfriend, William Rothstein, after he tipped off police in September 2003.
Rothstein, who has since died of cancer, said he came forward after Diehl-Armstrong suggested using the ice crusher to get rid of the remains.
Rothstein is listed as an unindicted co-conspirator in the Wells case. So is Wells himself.
U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan has said Wells had a limited role planning and staging the robbery, but "we have reason to believe that at some point right before the bomb was fastened to his neck that he was coerced." His family has insisted he did not know the suspects.
Barnes, 53, a fishing buddy of Diehl-Armstrong's who has been jailed on an unrelated drug charge, pleaded not guilty during a brief arraignment Thursday. Diehl-Armstrong's initial appearance on the federal charges, previously scheduled for Friday, was delayed until Tuesday.
Both are charged with bank robbery, conspiracy and a firearms count. The latter charge is related to the bomb.
Diehl-Armstrong admitted killing another love interest, Robert Thomas, in the 1980s, but she said she had been a victim of physical and sexual abuse and shot Thomas before he killed her. She was acquitted of homicide in 1988 and put on probation for carrying a firearm without a license.
In February, she focused her anger on a new man: Fox News correspondent Geraldo Rivera. In papers filed in Erie County, she preserved her right to sue him down the road over a 2005 broadcast report on her criminal past and how she came to be linked to the bank robbery investigation.
Diehl described his daughter as intelligent but gullible. He said he hasn't seen his daughter in years and he doesn't want to, and doesn't plan to attend any of her court proceedings.
He said he can't recall exactly when his daughter started getting into trouble, but added that he is convinced she took years off her mother's life.
"I don't know much about her," he said. "I don't think I ever will."